Homo generator vs. homo fabricator

Here’s an interesting read about female dolphins using sponges to hunt for bottom-dwelling fish. As an undergraduate studying Anthropology, only five years ago, I was being taught by people that still claimed that what makes humans so special is tool use (homo fabricators).

Rather than differentiating humans from other animals on the basis of tool use, I think Agamben is right to state that humans differ from animals in our relationship to images. While animals are interested in images up to the point where they realize the image is fake, humans are interested in images only when images are known to be artificial (“Difference and Repetition: On the Films of Guy Debord.” In Guy Debord and the Situationist International, edited by Tom McDonough. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).

This is in-line with what Wolfgang Schirmacher states about what he calls homo generator. What marks humans as human is its capacity to generate life techniques. Against homo sapiens Schirmacher theorizes homo generator, the human being is that animal which is artificial by nature [“Indirect Communication and Aesthetic Ethics: An Ironic Reading of Kierkegaard.” Poeisis 9 (2007)]. While an animal may be interested with a representation of another animal, once the animal comes to understand that they are engaged with only a replica, they lose interest in that object; humans are just the opposite. In light of the eventual cloning of humans, the widespread social phenomenon of being completely immersed in entertainment technologies, and the rise of synthetic lifeforms, Schirmacher states that the task before humanity is,

to reformulate what it means to be human: mortality as well as natality are called into question again. With openness as our existential taste and co-evolutionary power as our design, Homo generator favors eternal revisions and safeguards the freedom of creation. What we clone is exactly this attitude of open generating and never a mere copy of anything (we leave that to primitive machines) [“Cloning Humans with Media: Impermanence and Imperceptible Perfection.” Poeisis, no. 2 (2000)].

The beings called human do play, they do use tools, and they possess intelligence, but it is the human’s capacity to create the worlds they experience that imbues them with a responsibility to account for the phenomena that we encounter and create. This is not a license to domination of all other living beings, but instead Schirmacher issues it as a challenge. Autopoieisis encompasses the world and it is only in the world-building that is humanity’s sine qua non that concepts of autonomy or self can be found (“On the Inability to Recognize the Human Flaw.” In Wolfgang Schirmacher. Just Living. Philosophy in Artificial Life. Atropos Press. New York).


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